Stop making testing complicated!

stop making testing complicated

An expert makes things look easy.

One of the things that differentiates between a professional and a non-professional is the way in which the first makes the things she does seem elegant and easy to do (I like to think of it as flowing trivially).

You can see this in the way an acrobat naturally flows in the stage (I saw a performance of “Cirque du Soleil” a couple of weeks ago that made feel this), or in the way painter applies his brush in a soft and almost imprecise manner (although by the way the painting ends up looking, there was nothing imprecise about it!),  and even by watching how a gifted programmer comes up with the lines of code that will elegantly and correctly fulfil the goal of his program.

The common thread to all of these is how they make a complicated task seem simple and at times even trivial.

Can testing be elegant?

The answer is YES.

I remember a session during a QA conference in the US some years ago. A very experienced tester was giving a presentation on a particular testing method, explaining how by following some basic rules and with the helps of heuristics you can find most bugs in almost any application.

To prove his point he challenged the audience to name any application that can be brought up on his computer and he would quickly find at least 5 (or was it 10?) bugs on it, on stage and live.

I don’t recall the application they choose, it might have been notepad or even the windows calculator, but the fact is that this tester took the application and very quickly, making it seem almost trivial, he found a number of pretty amazing bugs.  He even managed to crash the application twice on two unrelated bugs.

What this tester did was make testing seem easy and very very elegant.

Why do some testers make things seem so complicated?

This is a hard question to answer, basically because I think there are a number of answers to it.

1. Everything is complicated when you don’t know how to do it right

Think about learning to ride a bike.  When you tried it first it seemed like an impossible task, most probably you fell hundreds of times, and many of us still have the scars on our knees to prove it 🙂

Whenever you are learning something it will be complicated at first.  Until you learn how to do it right you will feel and look clumsy, insecure, and definitely-not-flowing.

So, a reason some tester make testing seem complicated is because they haven’t learned how to test.

The problem here is that, unlike riding a bike where most people end up riding nicely, there are many testers that even after a number of years in the profession (and some of them with nice diplomas and certifications hanging from their walls) they have still not learned how to test right.  These guys will never make testing seem easy.

2. Some types of testing are really complicated

Another reason is that, no matter what you think or say, some types of testing are really complicated.

There are a number of examples:
– Complex embedded systems, where they number of components and integrations is extremely large.
– Working on a system that is still under development, where you need to improvise a lot of the environment (e.g. stubs or drivers) only to make things respond.
And many more.

Sometimes you simply cannot expect to make something that is too complicated look simple…

3. Testing itself is not complicated, but the changing environment makes it look chaotic

An additional cause can be related not to the testing itself but to testing project environment, specially when it changes so much that it makes any type of plans or preparations useless.

You can see this in Start-Up companies where most of the things are not 100% defined, and changes in plans and products are not only a reality but an advantaged used to succeed in forming a winning enterprise.

You can also see this on companies of any size going over troubled and turbulent times, when there is too much pressure, sometimes even layoffs, and this reflects on the way the priorities and projects are constantly changing.  This environment makes the work of the testers, as well of almost all employees not only seem but also be complicated.

4. Some testers think making their jobs seem complex will help them to justify their work

Finally there are the testers who may already have the experience and knowledge to be good testers, who also work on systems that are not really complex, and in companies that are not undergoing any kind of turbulent times, but still choose to make their work seem complicated.

Why would they want to do such a thing?  I am not sure, to me this seems not only unnecessary but in a sense also dumb.

One of my guesses is that they feel that if they don’t make testing seem complicated, and if they don’t make the whole team believe that they are doing something hard, they will end up loosing their jobs.

The problem with this is that by making their work seem complicated, and by been all the time “busy” with their complex preparations and planning, they become bottlenecks.

So instead of helping the whole team to save time and to be more productive they end up been a burden and a waste.  Something that in my mind has a bigger chance of getting them replaced or simply fired.

Slackers are a burden to all the testing community!

It would still be somewhat OK if this behaviour would harm only them…
But since there are too many testers who make their work seem complex only because they are afraid to make testing seem simple, and also because a large number of the testers who claim to have experience in practice don’t really know how to test, this ends up reflecting negatively in all the testing community.

I am not sure  what can be done about it other than making sure you and your team work professionally and provide real testing value to the organization.

Once, a long time ago, I though that certifications and standardised training could provide an answer, but not I am a lot more skeptic about this…

What do you think?

Do you make testing look simple?

What can be done with testers who think that by making testing seem complex they are justifying their work, or with the testers that knowingly or un-knowingly refuse to learn how to test?

I am curious to get your opinion and hear about your experience on this points.

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11 Responses to Stop making testing complicated!

  1. bostonQA August 30, 2012 at 12:47 am #

    In my 11 years testing experience, I have seen that people who manage to make testing look complicated also manage to make life harder for other fellow QA Engineers very easily. I have also seen that these type of people can be every organization working from very long time and they are very successful.

  2. Guest August 30, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    Great post! Do you recall the name of the conference? I would love to
    see some examples of testing done elegantly and simple, if there are any
    on youtube. It would be a great source of inspiration! Like your blog 🙂

  3. ThomasK August 30, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    Great post! Do you recall the name of the conference? I would love to
    see some examples of testing done elegantly and simple, if there are any
    on youtube. It would be a great source of inspiration! Like your blog 🙂

  4. Namrata August 31, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    It was a good post

  5. joelmonte August 31, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    Interesting that you’ve seen these people being very successful. My experience is that, although I’ve seen a couple who managed to make people believe them, most of them were in the end let go. I strongly believe that you can maintain a lie for only “so long” until the truth catches up and blows you away…

  6. joelmonte August 31, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    I am not sure if the conference was one of the Star conferences (Star East or West) or a CAST conference. If you are looking for an “elegant tester” my vote would go for James Bach, not sure there are any YouTube videos, but I think he has a couple on his site –

  7. joelmonte August 31, 2012 at 1:34 pm #


  8. Kobi Halperin September 13, 2012 at 7:50 am #

    Speaking in slogans is easy,
    Defining how to keep things simple and still plan ahead and control the process – that is much harder.
    Processes and documentation should be kept to the minimal amount which still gives benefit,
    When you have all the heuristics in your head, testing might seem easy – the issue is: How to put them in newbies heads quickly and usefully.
    The problem with such posts as above, might be that some may interpret them as a suggestion to work with no pre-planning, and no documentation what so ever – this often back fires…
    I do hope to hear how you suggest to keep thing simple.

  9. joelmonte September 20, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    Thanks Kobi!
    Since I like to walk my talk I really meant what I said in the blog, and your comments prompted me to write down some of the things I do in my projects in order to keep things simple. You can read it on the blog I just posted –


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